The book “Shepherd the Flock of God”, shows that “deliberate, malicious lying” is a disfellowshipping offense. The Hebrew noun rākīl, which can be translated as “slander,” occurs six times in the Hebrew Scriptures. The difference between “malicious lying” and “slander” is that malicious lying means “saying something that is false with a bad motive to one who is entitled to know the truth” while slander means “uttering false and malicious statements that injure a person’s reputation.” There are also similarities between the concepts “malicious lying” and “slander.”
Chapter 12, point 22, in the Shepherd book discusses malicious lying and point 24 discusses slander. I have posted a separate web article in the category “Different actions” that discusses fraud and slander.
There is no Greek word in the Christian Greek Scriptures with the meaning “slander” or “malicious lying.” However, the LXX renders the Hebrew word rākīl with the Greek word dolos (“deceit, cunning”), and to speak deceit is close to malicious lying or slander. The word dolos occurs 11 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. But it does not occur in passages speaking about disfellowshipping.
Thus, the disfellowshipping offense “deliberate, malicious lying” was invented and introduced by the GB without any basis in the Bible.
The following definition is found in Insight on the Scriptures: “Lying generally involves saying something false to a person who is entitled to know the truth and doing so with the intent to deceive or to injure him or another person.” On the basis of this definition, we may ask: Can a Christian say something false to a person who is not entitled to know the truth and not be guilty of lying?
The answer to this question is No. Articles in The Watchtower between 1957 and 1960 discuss a concept coined by the GB and that was ultimately dubbed “theocratic war strategy,” and they show that a Christian could hide the truth from persecutors. However, when a Christian speaks, he or she must always tell the truth. There is no situation where a Christian is allowed to deliberately say something false.
The book for elders “Shepherd The Flock Of God” 12, point 22 says regarding deliberate, malicious lying:
- Deliberate, Malicious Lying; Bearing False Witness: (Prov. 6:16, 19; Col. 3:9; Rev. 22:15; it-2 pp 244-245) Though all lying is bad, judicial action is taken only if there has been a practice of deliberate, malicious lying. “Malicious” means deliberately harmful, harboring ill will or enmity. Lying that requires judicial action involves more than just exaggerations or petty, misleading statements of relatively minor consequence or lying because of momentary pressure or fear of man. –Matt 26:69-75.
- Generally, elders should not consider administering discipline if a Christian charges another Christian with making false statements in a court dispute. For example, this may involve divorce, child custody and support, and so forth. The Christian making the charge can express his concerns to the court that has the responsibility to determine what is truthful when rendering a judgment.
DIFFERENT FORMS OF LYING
Both the Watchtower literature and the secular literature show that lying can be manifested in different ways.
The definition of lying in the Watchtower literature
The lexicon Insight on the Scripture volume 2, page 245, defines “lie” in the following way:
The opposite of truth. Lying generally involves saying something false to a person who is entitled to know the truth and doing so with the intent to deceive or to injure him or another person. A lie need not always be verbal. It can also be expressed in action, that is, a person may be living a lie.
The Watchtower, public edition No 1, 2016, p. 5, has the following comments on “lying and slander.”
WHAT IS IT? Saying something false to someone who is entitled to know the truth. Lying can include misrepresenting or distorting facts in order to mislead a person, omitting key information to deceive someone, and exaggerating the truth in order to give a false impression.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS: “Jehovah detests a devious person, but His close friendship is with the upright.” (Proverbs 3:32) “Now that you have put away deceit, each one of you speak truth with his neighbor.”—Ephesians 4:25.
WHAT IS IT? Uttering false and malicious statements that injure a person’s reputation.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS: “A troublemaker causes dissension, and a slanderer separates close friends.” (Proverbs 16:28) “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out, and where there is no slanderer, quarreling ceases.”—Proverbs 26:20.
Both the comments of Insight and The Watchtower are excellent, and they show that there are differences between “malicious lying” and “slander”. The Shepherd book chapter 12, point 24, has the heading “Fraud, Slander,” and these words are discussed in another web article.
Our focus in this study will be on “malicious lying,” which is defined in Shepherd book as lying, including “deliberately harmful, harboring ill will or enmity.”
The definition of lying in the Bible
The Hebrew verb rākal has, according to the Hebrew lexicon by Brown, Driver, and Briggs, the meaning “go about, from one to another (for trade for gossip).” One can trade merchandise, and one can trade words. The meaning “gossip” is weaker than “slander” and does not include “ill will, or enmity.” The corresponding noun rākīl has the meaning “slander” according to BDB and “slander, gossip” according to the Hebrew-English lexicon of Koehelenberger and Mounce.
Below is the translation of Leviticus 19:16 (NWT13) with the noun rākīl.
16“‘You must not go around spreading slander (rākīl) among your people. You must not stand up against the life of your fellow man. I am Jehovah.
It is likely that the meaning of rākīl in this verse is “slander” rather than “gossip.” The LXX renders rākīl in this verse with the Greek word dolos, which means “deceit, cunning.” Therefore, combining these two connotations, spreading ‘deceitful gossip’ about someone is very close to the meanings of malicious lying or spreading slander.
In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the noun pseudos (“lie”) is used ten times. But there is no Greek word for “malicious lie” or for “slander.” However, the Greek word dolos “deceit, cunning” occurs 11 times. Second Peter 2:22 says about Jesus that no deceit (dolos) was found in his mouth.” And if a person is speaking deceit, that may be close to and include ‘malicious lies’ or “slander.”
It should be noted, however, that neither the word pseudos (“lie”) nor dolos (“deceit, cunning”) occurs in a context where disfellowshipping is mentioned. This means that the disfellowshipping offense “malicious lying” was invented and introduced by the GB without any basis in the Bible. Therefore, disfellowshipping a Witness for “deliberate, malicious lying” is an action that is completely unsanctioned by God.
THE PROBLEMS OF JUDICIAL CASES DEALING WITH MALICIOUS LYING
We have the same situation in connection with this disfellowshipping offense as we have in most of the other 34 disfellowshipping offenses that are made up and invented by the GB — the problem of ambiguity.
We note that the GB does not list “lying” as a disfellowshipping offense. But “malicious lying,” is considered grounds for disfellowshipping, evidently because malicious, meaning “deliberately harmful, harboring ill will or enmity,” takes lying to another level.
The first problem for a judicial committee is in finding out what really was said. It is true that the behavior of a person can be a lie — he or she can be a living lie. But in most cases, lies are expressed verbally. And so, the important question is: What was actually said? But establishing that is next to impossible, even when there are eyewitnesses. An article that underscores the problem I allude to is entitled “Myth: Eyewitness Testimony is the Best Kind of Evidence,” and it says:
But being convincing isn’t the same as being accurate. Eyewitness testimony is more fallible than many people assume. The advent of DNA analysis in the late 1980s revolutionized forensic science, providing an unprecedented level of accuracy about the identity of actual perpetrators versus innocent people falsely accused of crime. DNA testing led to the review of many settled cases. According to the Innocence Project , 358 people who had been convicted and sentenced to death since 1989 have been exonerated through DNA evidence. Of these, 71% had been convicted through eyewitness misidentification and had served an average of 14 years in prison before exoneration. Of those false identifications, 41% involved cross-racial misidentifications (221 of the 358 people were African American). And 28% of the cases involved a false confession.
The claim that eyewitness testimony is reliable and accurate is testable, and the research is clear that eyewitness identification is vulnerable to distortion without the witness’s awareness. More specifically, the assumption that memory provides an accurate recording of experience, much like a video camera, is incorrect. Memory evolved to give us a personal sense of identity and to guide our actions. We are biased to notice and exaggerate some experiences and to minimize or overlook others. Memory is malleable.
Eyewitnesses who stand before a judicial committee do so with the intention of telling the truth. But as the quotation shows, there are several factors that can influence their memory, to the extent that a part of their testimony may turn out to be false. On the basis of my own experience, I will say that cases that build on what was actually said are extremely problematic.
One important factor is that the elders have not been educated on how to handle judicial cases. The only “help” they have are basic passages dealing with judicial cases in the book “Shepherd The flock Of God.” But we cannot really learn how to handle other humans in a judicial case by reading a book.
Moreover, very few elders are aware of the aforementioned fact that portions, even large portions, of the testimony of eyewitnesses turn out to be mistaken or false. The eyewitnesses have the best of intentions, but their memory is, to some extent, fooling them. Therefore, confirming the accuracy of an eyewitnesses’ accusation that a brother or sister is lying is extremely difficult.
The second problem for the judicial committee, an insurmountable one, is having “to read the mind” of the accused one. If the elders think that, having established that a brother has been lying, their job is done, they have another “think” coming. The elders must next determine if the lie was intended to cause deliberate harm and was motivated by ill will or enmity, which is the definition of “malicious” in the expression “malicious lying”? But how can the elders possibly know or ascertain this without the ability to read minds?
Disfellowshipping a Witness because the elders think that he or she has bad motives violates the biblical principle that only actions that are proven can lead to disfellowshipping. However, in this case, the Witness is not disfellowshipped because of lying in itself, but because of the bad motives behind the lie. Yes, the elders on the judicial committee must act on the basis of their subjective viewpoints to assess and decide the motives of the person who has been lying. And since they cannot read minds, their views will often be wrong.
Not only are 34 of the 45 disfellowshipping offenses made up and invented by the GB. But many of them are ambiguous, and the witnesses are judged on the basis of their emotions and inclinations, their state of mind, rather than on any concrete acts of wrongdoing that a Witness has taken. The elders who take it upon themselves to judge the person based on these elusive premises will bear great accountability when they inevitably get it wrong.
ARE THERE SITUATIONS WHERE A CHRISTIAN HAS THE RIGHT TO LIE?
There are two reasons for the question in the heading. First, there are situations in the Bible where some of God’s servants in the past said something that was not true. Can this be used as a pattern for Christians today? Second, the definition of “lie,” according to Insight, is “saying something false to a person who is entitled to know the truth and doing so with the intent to deceive or to injure him or another person.” Does this definition mean that Christians are permitted to say something false to a person who is not entitled to know the truth?
What can we learn from God’s servant in the past who hid the truth?
This issue was discussed in the Watchtower literature 60 years ago, and very little has been written about it in the 21st century. The Watchtower of 1 February 1956, pages 81-87, contains the article entitled “Cautious as Serpents Among Wolves.” This article discusses examples of God’s servants in the past like Abraham, Rahab, and David, who misled their enemies and said something that was only partially true or even completely false. The comment of the author of the article is that these were times of theocratic warfare, and that can explain the behavior of God’s servants.
19 Remember that there was war then. The enemies did not deserve to learn the truth to the hurt or endangerment of Jehovah’s servants. In wartime it is proper to misdirect the wolfish enemy. While the king’s misdirected men were gone in a vain pursuit, Rahab helped the two spies to escape over the city wall. God’s Word commends her action as the practical proof of her faith: “In the same manner was not also Rahab the harlot declared righteous by works, after she had received the messengers hospitably and sent them out by another way?” So the lives of Rahab and her relatives were spared when Jericho’s walls were tumbled down and all the other cityfolk were wiped out.—Josh. 2:1-24; 6:17-23 and Jas. 2:25, NW.
The important question is whether Jehovah’s servants today can follow the example of Rahab and others in the past. The article says on pages 87 and 88:
37 In view of the above-given Scriptural examples Jesus was in harmony with the spirit of Jehovah God in instructing his apostles when he sent them out as sheep among wolves: “Prove yourselves cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves.” Since the unchristian wolves declare war upon the sheep and choose to make themselves “fighters actually against God,” it is proper for the inoffensive “sheep” to use war strategy toward the wolves in the interests of God’s work. No one against whom this strategy is used is unrighteously hurt because of it, whereas the “sheep” or those interests that deserve to be protected are safeguarded. God does not oblige us to show the stupidity of sheep and play into the hands of our fighting enemy. We should meet the seed of the Serpent, the “offspring of vipers,” with the cautiousness of serpents. Foreseeing danger, we should cover ourselves against the wolves that prey upon Jehovah’s flock. “Oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, . . . Therefore keep awake,” says Paul. (Acts 20:28-31, NW) “A prudent man seeth the evil, and hideth himself.”—Prov. 22:3, AS.
38 It is proper to cover over our arrangements for the work that God commands us to do. If the wolfish foes draw wrong conclusions from our maneuvers to outwit them, no harm has been done to them by the harmless sheep, innocent in their motives as doves. The action is not out of a liar’s hatred. “He that hideth hatred is of lying lips; and he that uttereth a slander is a fool. A lying tongue hateth those whom it hath wounded.”—Prov. 10:18;26:28, AS.
39 We cannot condemn as a liar and deceiver the witness of Jehovah that was about to cross the border line back into Nazi Germany and who took Bible literature with her at the risk of her freedom. She put the literature in the baby carriage at the feet of her baby and covered it over with unwashed baby diapers. When the Nazi officer inspected her carriage, dug down into it and got his hand in touch with the wet, dirty diapers, he quickly withdrew his hand in disgust. He let her cross the border, and with her the literature went in to feed many of the oppressed, brutally treated sheep under Hitler’s regime. Then there is the witness who was working from house to house with a basket of literature. Enemies reported her to the police as a woman with a shirtwaist of a certain color. So around the corner she took out a shirtwaist of another color and made a change, then walked back down the same street and past the officer on her trail, and escaped being identified. There is the brother, too, who was sentenced to the quarries from which no one was known to come out alive. As a musician he was spared the killing quarry work, but he was not mindful of only his own life. At risk of his own privilege as the musical entertainer of the camp officer, he smuggled portions of food to his underfed brothers sentenced to backbreaking quarry work and was able to keep them alive. When at last deliverance came, not only he but those whom he had fed contrary to Nazi regulations emerged with him from the place of doom.
40 To this day the history of Jehovah’s witnesses is ever-new with like cases of their outwitting the wolves by exercising due caution in the face of danger while they are engaged in a good, loving work according to God’s will and command. Such outwitting of oppressors of the sheep is not a failure to “render therefore unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s”; it is a courageous, sensible way of rendering first “unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matt. 22:21, AS) If the wolfish enemy drives Jehovah’s people underground like David who was driven by Saul into the cave of Adullam and other caves, then their underground worship is not a work of deceit and lies because it is not done above ground under greedy eyes of the wolves. (2 Sam. 23:13;1 Sam. 22:1;24:3-10;1 Ki. 18:4, 13) The hypocrisy and deceit lie with the wolves who openly make of God’s house a “cave of robbers.”—Mark 11:15-17, NW.
The Watchtower of 1957, pages 285 and 286, again discusses theocratic war strategy, and we read:
A WITNESS of Jehovah was going from house to house in Eastern Germany when she met a violent opposer. Knowing at once what to expect she changed her red blouse for a green one in the very next hallway. No sooner had she appeared on the street than a Communist officer asked her if she had seen a woman with a red blouse. No, she replied, and went on her way. Did she tell a lie? No, she did not. She was not a liar. Rather, she was using theocratic war strategy, hiding the truth by action and word for the sake of the ministry.
In this she had good Scriptural precedent. Did not Rahab hide the Israelite spies by both action and word? Did not Abraham, Isaac, David and others likewise hide the truth at times when faced with a hostile enemy? They certainly did, and never do we read a word of censure for their doing so. Rather, we read of their being termed exemplary servants of Jehovah. Their actions were in line with Jesus’ wise counsel: “Look! I am sending you forth as sheep amidst wolves; therefore prove yourselves cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves.”—Matt. 10:16, NW.
Perhaps some will wonder as to where the line is to be drawn between use of theocratic war strategy in hiding the truth and the telling of lies. First of all, let it be noted that whenever one takes an oath to tell the truth he is obligated to do so. By dedicating himself to do God’s will each Christian has taken a vow or made an oath to do God’s will and to be faithful to him. To this oath he certainly must be true. Likewise, when a Christian is placed on a witness stand he is obligated to speak the truth if he speaks at all. At times he may prefer to refuse to speak and suffer the consequences rather than betray his brothers or the interests of God’s work. And, of course, there is no occasion for use of war strategy when dealing with our Christian brothers. In dealing with them we tell the truth or tactfully remind them that what they seek to know does not concern them.
Lies are untruths told for selfish reasons and which work injury to others. Satan told a lie to Eve that worked great harm to her and all the human race. Ananias and Sapphira told lies for selfish reasons. But hiding the truth, which he is not entitled to know, from an enemy does not harm him, especially when he would use such information to harm others who are innocent.
There is also a discussion of theocratic warfare in The Watchtower of 15. June 1960, page 352:
There is one exception, however, that the Christian must ever bear in mind. As a soldier of Christ he is in theocratic warfare and he must exercise added caution when dealing with God’s foes. Thus the Scriptures show that for the purpose of protecting the interests of God’s cause, it is proper to hide the truth from God’s enemies. A Scriptural example of this is that of Rahab the harlot. She hid the Israelite spies because of her faith in their God Jehovah. This she did both by her actions and by her lips. That she had Jehovah’s approval in doing so is seen from James’ commendation of her faith.—Josh. 2:4, 5; Jas. 2:25.
This would come under the term “war strategy,” as explained in The Watchtower, February 1, 1956, and is in keeping with Jesus’ counsel that when among wolves we must be as “cautious as serpents.” Should circumstances require a Christian to take the witness stand and swear to tell the truth, then, if he speaks at all, he must utter the truth. When faced with the alternative of speaking and betraying his brothers or not speaking and being held in contempt of court, the mature Christian will put the welfare of his brothers ahead of his own, remembering Jesus’ words: “No one has greater love than this, that someone should surrender his [life] in behalf of his friends.”—Matt. 10:16; John 15:13.
Enemies of Jehovah’s Witnesses have claimed that “theocratic warfare” implies that a Witness has the right to lie, even in a court case. The articles quoted above show that this is not true. And as an elder in the organization of JW for 56 years, whose duty has been to teach the congregation members, I can confirm that the accusation is not true.
Other elders and I have been taught, and we have taught others, that in a situation of “war” we can refuse to answer questions and by this hide the truth from our persecutors, and we can follow the modern examples that are mentioned above. But when we speak, we must always tell the truth. There is no situation that Jehovah’s servants today have the right to lie and say something that is not true.
While lying always is wrong, only malicious lying is a disfellowshipping offense, according to the Shepherd book.
The Hebrew word rākīl can include the meaning “slander” or the weaker meaning “gossip.” However, there is no Greek word in the Christian Greek Scriptures with the meaning “malicious lying” or “slander.” Similar to the Hebrew word rākīl, the Greek word dolos (“deceit, cunning”) is an umbrella term that can include the meaning of “malicious lying” or “slander.” It occurs 11 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures, but not in a disfellowshipping context. This means that “malicious lying” as a disfellowshipping offense was made up and introduced by the Governing Body without any basis in the Bible.
Enemies of JW have said that JW can lie in situations of “theocratic warfare.” This is not true. What is true is that JW can mislead their persecutors via misdirection and hiding the truth. But there is no situation where Jehovah has authorized Christians to lie.